The Impossibility Of The Book

Editor Daniel Menaker discusses the impossibility of contemporary book publishing his recent essay, Redactor Agonistes.

The essay covers everything from the perpetual gloom of the book business to the psychological dependency of writers. Reviews are often arbitrary. You can’t get reviewed anyway, because there are few reputable review outlets left. You don’t have time to read all the good books that come out; You don’t even have time to find them.

Menaker thinks that books today are becoming shorter due to shorter attention spans. We’ve all heard this before, usually about kids and teenagers: the Internet is decreasing everyone’s attention span and kids don’t read anymore. If this were true, I couldn’t say that my 13-year-old sister read 12 books this summer (no, they were not assigned readings, nor was the TV broken, her cell-phone disconnected, or her laptop inaccessible). But the fact that books are getting shorter may be true even if his reason for it is not.

Which brings up an interesting point that Mark Bernstein pointed out to me: “how long should a salable unit of literature be?  In the 18th century, people bought and sold pamphlets and even broadsides. What law of nature or economics prevents one from buying a novella?” Similarly, how long must a hypertext work be?